New Pony Records
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  • May 7, 1965 Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England
  • December 10, 1978 The Coliseum, Charlotte, NC
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Liner Notes

Nineteen Seventy-Eight. After a year off the road, Dylan reemerges in February with a large supporting band — including horns, a percussionist and three backing singers — touring Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The sound and feel of this mini-tour is captured on Dylan’s Live At Budokan, released in mid-summer.

Upon returning to the States, Dylan and his band enter the studio to record Street Legal, released a mere six weeks after the final tracks are cut. In early June, they perform a solid week of concerts in Los Angeles, then embark on a summer tour of Europe. They return stateside in September with an exhaustive tour of the United States, ending in Florida in mid-December. In all, Dylan and his band play 114 concerts in 1978, 91 in the last six months.

These concerts are unlike anything Dylan played prior to, or after, 1978. The addition of saxophone and flute, three tremendous backing singers, and a superb percussionist create a much bigger, more intricate sound than Dylan had attempted prior to this time. He alters the arrangements of most songs to play fully upon the expanded instrumentation of the band and some arrangements, particularly during the spring concerts, reach beyond Dylan’s typical repertoire of influences to include highly orchestrated reggae-styled rhythms and instrumental numbers worlds apart from the ramshackle majesty of the 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue.

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Overall, the concerts maintain a similar structure from February through December. Each opens with an instrumental, includes an intermission midway, and all clock in at more than two hours of music. The set lists generally reflect Dylan’s most popular songs and there are only a handful of variations over the year. These performances were warmly received by audiences each night, but the critics were less enthusiastic, some dismissing them as “Dylan Goes Vegas” and worse. Overshadowed by the cool reception given Live At Budokan and Street Legal, scant attention has been given these concerts in the intervening years. Thanks to a few hardy tapers, we have the recordings so we can hear for ourselves.

Where Live At Budokan can sound highly polished, even prim; by the autumn concerts, Dylan’s sound has evolved into something else altogether. As Dylan and his musicians rolled into Charlotte, North Carolina for this evening in December, one would expect the manic pace of the tour and the length of each concert to have taken a toll on Dylan’s voice and enthusiasm. Instead, the accumulated performances seem to goad him further, reaching a kinetic vocal frenzy at points jarringly at odds with the lush instrumentation of the band. The overall effect has put off many casual listeners, but the genius within it emerges with repeated listening.

One hundred ten concerts into the tour, Dylan’s performance defies easy description, but could hardly be further from the staged spectacle of Las Vegas. At their best, these performances leave nothing untouched, pressing relentlessly towards an incandescence which sets Dylan, the performer, apart from his peers. Listen to Dylan’s tooth-and-nail singing on Mr. Tambourine Man as he wrings every last ounce from the melody. Listen to Tangled Up In Blue, sung as a lounge confessional; Petrarch’s poetry ominously replaced by the Bible’s Book of Jeremiah, proffered by a woman in a dress “made of stars and stripes.” Listen to the band rage through Maggies Farm and Masters of War and listen to Dylan alone with his guitar and harmonica somehow make It Ain’t Me Babe sound just as urgent without any of the thunder. Here’s a performer who sounds as though he’s singing for his salvation and doesn’t intend to hold anything back. Exhilarating, exhausting and even a bit alarming, these performances leave nothing in the cupboard and are not to be missed.

Disc One
my back pages
she’s love crazy
mr. tambourine man
shelter from the storm
love minus zero/no limit
tangled up in blue
ballad of a thin man
maggie’s farm
i don’t believe you
like a rolling stone
i shall be released
senor
the times they are a’changin
it ain’t me babe
Disc Two
am i your stepchild
one more cup of coffee
blowin in the wind
girl of the north country
we better talk this over
masters of war
just like a woman
all along the watchtower
to ramona
it’s alright ma
forever young
changing of the guards

Click this symbol to hear one-minute samples of these selected songs. These are 128kbps samples which, depending upon your connection speed, may play instaneously on high broadband, but may take several minutes to begin playing for dial up connections.

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